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AmaZulu seal CAF Champions League spot after dramatic turnaround

Johannesburg (AFP) – Tapelo Xoki converted a match-winning penalty to secure AmaZulu a place in the 2022 CAF Champions League on Wednesday after a remarkable turnaround in their South African Premiership season.

The 48th-minute goal delivered a 1-0 victory over Swallows in Durban and assured the hosts of second spot behind Mamelodi Sundowns and a first appearance in an African competition.   

When former South Africa star Benni McCarthy replaced Ayanda Dlamini as coach last December, the Durban outfit had won just one of seven matches and a battle against relegation was looming.   

Under McCarthy, AmaZulu suffered only one loss in the next 16 Premiership matches to climb from 11th to second in the 16-club championship.

A mini-slump followed with defeats by Baroka and Orlando Pirates before grinding out a victory over draw specialists Swallows, who were losing for only the second time in 29 matches.

Goalkeeper Veli Mothwa has been an AmaZulu star and he brilliantly tipped a fierce shot from Thabo Matlaba over the crossbar midway through the second half to deny Swallows an equaliser.

Many pundits believed McCarthy, part of Porto’s 2004 UEFA Champions League-winning squad, was being overambitious when he said his bottom line this season was a top-four finish. 

Given their poor start to the campaign and never having finished higher than seventh in the richest African league, it seemed an unrealistic goal.

Now they and 2016 Champions League winners Sundowns will represent South Africa in the next edition of the marquee African club competition.

– Rare hat-trick –

FA Cup winners TTM have booked a place in the CAF Confederation Cup — the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League — and the other spot rests between Pirates, Golden Arrows and SuperSport United.

Third-place Pirates hold a one-point lead over Arrows going into the final round on Saturday and a win at home to TTM will secure a place in Africa even if their rivals beat visiting Stellenbosch.

SuperSport trail Pirates by three points after a 2-0 home win over Maritzburg through a brace from Golden Boot frontrunner Bradley Grobler in Pretoria. 

Pirates drew 1-1 at Baroka thanks to an equaliser from Malawian Frank Mhango in Polokwane while Arrows fell 3-2 away to Kaizer Chiefs in Soweto after leading twice.

Lebogang Manyama scored a hat-trick for Chiefs, only the third player after Cameroonian Bienvenu Eva Nga of Chippa United and Themba Zwane of Sundowns to achieve the feat this season.

Chiefs were coached by former assistants Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard after head coach Gavin Hunt was fired last Friday just eight months into a three-year contract due to poor domestic form.

In a strange season for the most popular club in South Africa, they will compete in the CAF Champions League semi-finals this month, but lie 10th in the Premiership. 

The long anticipated relegation of Black Leopards was confirmed as they surrendered an early lead to go down 2-1 at Cape Town City with Nigerian Abdul Ajagun scoring the winning goal.

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